What is Bigorexia? Popular gym diet causing dysmorphia and eating disorders in teens

In the search for a perfect six pack, shredded pecs, and bulging biceps, young adults and teens have increasingly turned to cycles of “bulking” and “cutting” to achieve their desired physical shape, but new research suggests that this could be causing these young people to develop body dysmorphia and eating disorders.

The popular gym diet, which involves alternating between periods of binge-eating, “bulking”, and periods of extreme calorie deficit, “cutting”, was followed by half of all the young men who participated in the Canadian survey. It found that people of all genders who participated in the diet had a much higher incidence of the condition known as “bigorexia”, a combination of muscle dysmorphia and an eating disorder.

The survey’s author, University of California’s Dr. Jason Nagata, told Medical News Today: “Muscle dysmorphia occurs when an individual becomes obsessed with becoming muscular. They may view themselves as puny even if they are objectively muscular.”

The 2,762 participants, all aged 16 to 30, were recruited via social media to take part in the survey, which asked them if they had engaged in a cycle of bulking and cutting in the past 30 days, and 12 months. They were then asked a series of clinical psychological questions to evaluate the extent to which they had either an eating disorder or body dysmorphia.

They found that young men were twice as likely to have done a bulk and cut cycle in the past 30 days, and also 12 months, as other genders. While women who cycled their calorie intake tended to do it more frequently than men, though researchers believe that this could be to ensure a consistent body image.

People who engaged in this diet were found to be much more driven by a desire for muscularity, rather than weight, while also having a higher incidence of both eating disorders and muscle dysmorphia, which clinicians group together as bigorexia.

This new study, published in Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity, is one of the first to look at the impact of this popular diet on mental health and its results have caused its authors to call for a change in approaching bigorexia as a public health issue.

Lead author of the study, Dr Kyle Ganson, said: “Healthcare professionals need to be aware of this unique behaviour and not just screening for ‘typical’ eating disorder behaviours, such food restriction and binge-eating, or ‘typical’ body-focused attitudes and behaviours, such as [a] drive for thinness.”